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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Understanding the Basics of SEO for Public Relations

Occasionally the Minnesota Public Relations Blog has touched on search engine optimization (SEO), a discipline that public relations professionals should have some awareness of.

SEO has a strong intersection with public relations and social media, given the importance of online presence to brands. If SEO is new to you, this overview will be helpful.

Search engine optimization definition

According to Search Engine Wiki, SEO is "the use of search engines to draw traffic to a website. It's the technique of attaining a higher ranking in search engines and directories via alteration of website code and copy to make it more search engine compatible."

SEO is important because 75 percent of users never scroll past the first page of search results. I know that's generally the case with me. If I'm really digging for something, I'll go all the way to page four.

Keyword research

Keywords are the most crucial element to SEO. Search engines work to match queries that have appropriate keywords in them with the most relevant content on the Internet.

Keywords are phrases you wish to target. They are the terms that potential website visitors would use in search engines. As an example, think about what you would type into Google to find an excellent Italian restaurant in the Twin Cities. You might type in "Italian restaurant Minneapolis," "Italian restaurant St. Paul," "best Italian restaurant Twin Cities," or "best Italian restaurant Minneapolis St. Paul."

To come up with relevant keywords for your project, think about your target market. Is there a specific geography, age or gender with which you want to connect?

Write down as many keywords as you can think of, and then do some research to find out how frequently they actually are used. Some tools to determine how popular keywords are include:  Google AdWords, SEMrush and Raven Tools.

Optimizing press releases

Like it or not, search engines don't have a sense of humor, and that impacts how clever one can make the headlines and copy in a press release. One aspect of effectively optimizing a press release going out on a wire service (Business Wire, PR Newswire, etc.) is to use a clear (not necessarily clever) headline. Another important tip to take into account is to place your key messages at the beginning of the press release, as search engines consider the copy near the beginning of the release more important than the rest of the copy.

To use the most appropriate number of characters for readers (and online news services like Google News), noted writing expert Ann Wylie recommends keeping the headline length to eight words or fewer, the deck/subhead length to 14 words or fewer, and the lead paragraph to 25 words or fewer.

Now back to the relevant keywords. Hyperlinks to the respective page on your organization's website are important to the algorithms of search engines.

The keywords that you consider important should be hyperlinked in your press release, but use caution. Yahoo! Finance, one of the leading Internet news sites, has placed restrictions on hyperlinks in a press release, such as: one hyperlink per every 100 words, a maximum of six links within a press release, and a maximum of three consecutive words can be hyperlinked.

Using photos for SEO opportunities

Search engines are visually impaired, which is why keywords are so important. Search engines can read the words on a page, but not see photos.

However, a related way that search engines can "see" photos is the associated text that can be assigned to each photo. In a press release, the associated text comes into play when publishing a multimedia press release using a wire service. Remember to use the keywords that you deemed relevant.

Understanding META tags

META tags are HTML tags that are in the code of a website. I mention them here just because they are important to SEO, and you see them everyday in search engines.

In the example above for Sparkweave (a client that I work with through KC Associates), the TITLE tag is the top line, and the META description is the phrase that starts with "Sparkweave" and ends with "today." Other aspects of META tags include the keywords tag and ALT IMG/associated text for images. (The keywords tag and the ALT IMG/associated text don't show up in search engine results, but are in the HTML code.)

Optimizing your online pressroom

Having a pressroom that is very easy for journalists to find and has the information that they need can make the difference between your organization making the cut in a news story or not.

In research that I conducted with journalists for an article (opens PDF) that ran in "Tactics," here's what I found:
  • Keep it simple.
  • Make media contact information prominent.
  • Ensure easy access from your company's home page.
  • Provide RSS feeds.
  • Keep your online pressroom organized.
  • Use the terms "media" and "press" in your online pressroom.
  • Offer a search box.
  • Provide more than just press releases.
I will be sharing these SEO insights at the Public Relations Society of America Midwest District Conference on July 25. I hope to see you there!

-- Brant Skogrand, APR, MBC / Skogrand PR Solutions, LLC